Friday, May 26, 2006

Joined up Government

I received a phone call from OfCom yesterday, advising me which frequency Morley FM could have next month. (94.9FM, subject to approval). Shortly afterwards, I received an email from OfCom, telling me that no frequencies were available, terribly sorry and all that.

Aaaargh! Left hand, meet right hand; right hand, meet left hand...

Turns out we can have the frequency after all, after I facilitated some joined-up Government. If I'd received the info in the reverse order I would have been a particularly unhappy bunny...

Officialdom- as Bart Simpson would say, it both sucks and blows at the same time!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The value of privacy

ID cards are going to solve everything?

Too many wrongly characterize the debate as "security versus privacy." The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that's why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.

From Bruce Schnier's blogpiece with the title above.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

does whatever a spider can...

I found out more about the Eurovision amazing camera cuts- the clue was in the credits. The system is called Spidercam from Creative Complex Systems, an Austrian Company. The Camera is suspended on four cables, each of which goes back to a tower and can be rapidly winched in or out. This enables the camera to be placed practically anywhere within the bounds of the towers and presumably if the camera is radio controlled for pan, tilt, zoom and focus, remarkable things happen.

I do wonder, though, how disorienting it must have been for the turns, who could have come to grief if they had wandered off their marks during the performance.

The other thing we watched (on time shift) was the Princes Trust gig, a sort of mini- Live 8 & Red Nose day rolled into one. Ben Elton hosted the last hour and is as sharp and searing as ever, it took me straight back to the mid 80s, Saturday live and "a little bit of politics". None of your middle of the road Ant & Dec pap, this was in your face and cutting edge.

A lot of the 80's acts were Cak but it held together well and Friday Night Live was even bigger, if short lived. Ben was great live, a real motormouth and whilst you didn't always agree with him, he certainly pointed out the absurd and the funny side.

I still say "hello everybodypeeps" to some people who remember Harry enfield's Stavros.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

rain stops play...

A very wet weekend in Morley so far. It didn't matter on the way to the swimming pool, but it made the Morley FM Town Hall leafleting a washout before it had even started.

We popped over the Pennines this afternoon, surprisingly it was raining less in Manchester, not the normal state of affairs.

This evening, after Dr Who and Dr Who confidential, we ended up watching the Eurovision song contest. I fully expected to have lost interest and wandered off to surf, but the show kept my attention. Not that the songs were that good, but Terry Wogan sends it up something rotten and the staging of such a mammoth event is nothing short of "amazing", a little in-joke that it was the most overused word of the evening.

I was particularly impressed with the camerawork, massive swoops and scurrys round the performers from what could only have been motorised in the air systems at times, never visible in the long shots. A bit frenetic, but fascinating.

The lighting and LED sets were spectacular but not gripping. To me, wow factors need great music (or theatre) and being there in the flesh.

We switched off just before the judging which is traditionally tedious but insightful into european politics.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Death of an individualist...

An MP called Eric Forth died on Wednesday. I don't think I was aware of anything about him before today but I read a very earthy eulogy of him in the mail this morning, by Quentin Letts. You have to fork out to read it, however, I include the link just in case you are a Mail online subscriber.

He was a distinct individualist, put principle before party, spoke his mind, knew the answer to problems was not more regulation, abhorred Political Correctness and the other trendy pseudo-religions like envirophobia and a United EUrope. He also wore rather odd clothing and I suspect he didn't give a tinker's cuss what others thought of him.

He sounds like the sort of oddball that I would have enjoyed rubbing shoulders with.

There is much more toned down stuff on the BBC but there are rather a lot of narrow minded leftish comments, as the BBC telds to encourage here. It gave me a chuckle reading them though!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A little bit of politics...Privacy insurance

On May 1st, I applied to renew my Passport. I have actually held two for a number of years, mainly due working in Countries that need you to apply for Visas. I found out in the 80s that being a globetrotting troubleshooter wasn't much use if my passport was languishing in the Saudi arabian Embassy for several days. The Passport people are happy for you to hold another passport if there is a genuine need.

I re-applied for a second Passport about nine years ago when I was self-employed- I had to provide a letter of justification from my Employer to secure this and I took great delight in writing the letter as Company Secretary and Managing Director of Delicolor Ltd, confirming that the Company's sole employee (me) had a genuine need.

The older passport lapsed in March this year and my current one was good until mid-2007. However, I am very conscious of all this ID card malarkey where "voluntary" cards are going to be compulsory if you want to travel. To defer this as long as possible, now is the time to renew your Passport which in theory will enable you to resist the insidious piece of plastic until 2016 (or February 2017 in my case, as they carried forward ten months of non-elapsed time from my current one.)

The No2ID campaign is encouraging people to renew during May as a protest vote and you can find the details here. It currently costs £51 but expect that to go up considerably next year. After all, we have to pay for the new interview centres where future applicants will have to go to in order to prove who they say they are...

I'm pleased to say that it turned up quickly enough, as did my two old ones (with the corners cut off to void them).

Friday, May 12, 2006

Unconscious incompetence

To look forward, first look back.

The title comes from a slide graph I saw many years ago at a training event, which courses the progress of an individual or an organisation when learning to master a task. There are four distinct stages, with Capability as the X axis and awareness on the Y axis. Take the example of learning to drive.

When you are a young teenager, you are in a state of unconscious incompetence- you don’t know how bad you are at driving. You might know the principles of the controls but assume that it can’t be that hard to do as your Mum & Dad can do it.

Then comes your first lesson. Yikes! So much to remember! How can you possibly do different things with different limbs? You are now acutely conscious of your incompetence.

Over time, you learn how to control the car and develop road awareness. You have progressed into the competence category but you are still very aware that you have to do a lot of thinking in order to drive safely. This is particularly acute the day you pass your test and decide to venture out onto the motorway. (The day I did that, my exhaust fell off!)

Then, some 30,000 miles or so later, you are now able to drive competently and unconsciously. You change gear according to the conditions without needing to analyse which pedal to press. You can hold a conversation or listen to the radio without wobbling or nearly crashing into the car in front. A lot of the driving is on auto-pilot but you become instantly aware of any unusual hazard or potential obstruction. Now is the time to go on an advanced motoring course to cure you of any bad habits you have slipped into!

Now for another take on the word conscious/unconscious. As far as I am aware, I have only been unconscious twice in my life, both as a child having teeth pulled out. (They weren’t rotten, I just had an overcrowded mouth and it was to make room for my second teeth which otherwise may have emerged somewhat misaligned). Once was at an NHS dental centre in Slatyford (a Newcastle Suburb), the second time was in the Dental hospital in the centre of Newcastle. I was given gas both times and the experience was very similar. After being given the face mask, I was asked to count to ten and by about six my eyes were closing and the sound went all zingy and whiny. Shortly afterwards, I came round in a recovery bed with a stainless steel kidney bowl next to me and spat out a lot of blood. Even to this day, when I see kidney-shaped side dishes in restaurants, I think of losing teeth and bleeding gums!

Now, looking forward, I am likely to be made unconscious again as I have some surgery planned under general anaesthetic in the not too distant future. The surgery is actually rather trivial- I’m having a tympanostomy tube fitted into one of my ears, which has been giving me trouble for a number of years. This device also goes by the name of a grommet, something more associated with young Kids than blokes in their late 40s. The ear, nose and throat team will also do an exploratory of my sinuses in order to work out why my little eustachian tubes don’t equalise the ear pressure properly.

I have found some relief using a medical device called an Otovent, essentially a balloon that you inflate using your nose. By closing off the other nostril and swallowing whilst the air pressure is increased, the ears equalise as per landing in aeroplanes. The first time I used it my right eardrum did a huge double-thump like someone standing behind me with a big Bass drum, then suddenly my hearing was ten times better. Whilst it certainly gives relief, to the casual observer the sight of someone blowing up a balloon with their nose looks absolutely ridiculous. Both Karen and David could initially put me off my stroke by making a balloon deflation noise whenever they heard an inflation going on. (I’d immediately descend into fits of laughter and have to calm myself before trying again).

I have no idea when the surgery will happen, you know what the NHS is like. It is complicated by the anaesthetist wanting me to recover in a high dependency bed- as I have obstructive sleep apnea there is a slight risk that I could stop breathing post-operation and that would be more of an issue on a general recovery ward. High dependency beds are prioritised for those who seriously need them so I could easily get gazumphed by an urgent case right up to surgery time. Time will tell…

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Change is inevitable

More time to kill in London yesterday morning. I have to get an early train in order to get parked at Wakefield Station (or nearby car parks). The first "cheap" train leaves 8:17, arriving at about 10:30.

I prefer Man-made constructs to nature. I'd rather go to the top of a high building than the top of a mountain. Nature has its place, but the touch of an Engineer gives it human scale. The skill of an artisan gives it grace and form. The fashions of the period give it character, unless the post-modernists are involved.

Today, my meeting was in the Covent Garden Area. I took a walk up to Murder One, a crime and sci-fi bookshop on Charing Cross Road, probably the only easy source of vintage Sci-Fi from the masters like Robert Heinlein, still one of my favourite authors for the last 20 years. Shock horror! It was all boarded up. Then I noticed that it had swapped sides of the road. However, there was a big queue to get in, due to a book signing. Rats...

Covent Garden was its usual tourist attraction. I wandered into Pollocks toyshop downstairs lobby, I name I recognised as the origin of Penny plain, tuppence coloured. There was an absolutely sumptious model theatre in a display cabinet and I now regret not having gone upstairs, having seen the website.

The meeting was in an old building in Southampton Street just south of the Piazza, although I was startled to find that the building was entirely new within the shell of the facade. The original BCS building near the BBC Broadcasting House had been a graceful georgian affair and I had spent at least five three hour sessions in there taking exams. This new building was much more modern and well equipped, although looking back at the facade on the way out, I noticed it had a number of steel vertical straps keeping the integrity of the facade intact. (You can see one to the right of the clock in this photo).

I have been in so many London buildings over the years, particularly theatres. However, I now find I'm of an age where I can't always identify which ones, or muddle them up. I did a big double-take in Victoria recently when a landmark building to me, the Esso headquarters, had entirely disappeared and been replaced by something else. It wasn't anything special, but it was my first site where I was in charge of the job. I can vividly remember running cables a very convoluted route through the depths of the complex, including feeling the Circle line trains rumbling beneath a concrete hump in the sub-basement. The run went through a deeds safe which had the original plaques of the first esso London Buildings (Exxon or maybe Standard Oil) stored away for posterity.

Now, there it is, gone. Some Buildings outlive people, but far too many outlive their usefulness, particularly the interesting ones.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Election shock...

Morley South now has a BNP Councillor, The Morley Borough Independent Candidate coming second and Labour third.

This is somewhat of a stunning result and I'm sure Chris Beverley is delighted, especially as there are allowances, unlike Morley Town Council. I'm not happy with the outcome but I don't begrudge Chris winning, he persuaded the most people to put an X next to his name, his share of the vote was almost a third. (Or maybe it was the Labour Party who secured it for him, they haven't been overly popular both locally and nationally.)

There is a lot of tosh and scaremongering about the BNP, the biggest one being that they are right wing. They are all for state intervention in both personal life and economics, which makes them of a socialist bent. Their outlook could be described as Neo-Fascist, remember, Hitler's Nazi party were National Socialists...

What the BNP are NOt, however, are Libertarians.

Valley of the Kenton Bar Kings

I have posted previously about moving to Kenton Bar Estate in the late 60s. We moved from a rather uninspiring rented flat with an outside toilet to the heights of Council House luxury. My Mum & Dad had visited the house previously and described it in glowing terms. It was a split level design (now referred to as a Town House), with effectively five different levels as you progressed through the house, three at the front and two at the rear. The Council described it as a T1, which stood for design type 1. From memory there were six designs, varying from cube shaped blocks of three flats to linked terraces with nearby garages. Our T1 started at ground floor level with the front door, garage, downstairs hall and a small toilet. The Garage housed the main heating plant, which used gas fired warm air central heating which was fan assisted. The main air intake was in the hall and the heated air passed up a central duct riser, with vents along the way.

Up the second level, a door led to the dining room and kitchen, with a small enclosed garden beyond. The central heating time clock was in here, with a fan speed switch- high or low. On high, it sounded banshee-like!

Onto the next level and the main bathroom and bedroom were here. The bathroom had a slatted window that was a useful way to break in if you locked yourself out. (I once recall a crowd of us watching the police help someone in a nearby street get a ladder and remove enough glass slats so they could get in after locking their keys inside. No sooner had he got in than he came downstairs to thank the Police, closing the front door behind him…). The bedroom had a generous provision of fitted wardrobes, including over-cupboards where Father Christmas hid my presents. This was also the landing where we chose to put our phone, having them in living rooms wasn’t de-rigeur at all then.

Level four had the main lounge, including the TV outlet, on the Rediffusion cable service. Aerials were not allowed on the Estate and Rediffusion preferred you to rent one of their sets, however if you provided your own they came along to modify your set and hang an adapter box on the back, which basically connected the TV speaker to their unit. The sound was controlled by the channel knob on the wall, with a volume knob on the adapter box. The room also had the central heating thermostat.

Level five had two bedrooms, only one of which was heated. The front one was rectangular and narrowed in the middle due to two fitted cupboards. The back one was square (without any cupboard space) overlooking a flat roof and it was possible to open the window and climb out, which I did several times in order to run bobbins of copper wire for my first crystal set. (A variant of the T1 called the T1A actually had a staircase from the hallway up onto the flat roof, forming a terrace, although these were only on the very top row of houses on the way in to the Estate). This bedroom had a hot air vent, but coupling all rooms together with ducting was rather noisy- you could hear the telly and indeed conversation from any other room with the duct open when the fan was off. Being an only child, I alternated between which bedroom was mine, and indeed they were both mine really.

When we moved in, the Estate was still far from complete, with landscaping and snagging still to finish. Over time, saplings were planted, mounds of earth turfed and small localised playgrounds with slides and swings were kitted out. The biggest draw to me though, was the central square, next to my school. It was on two levels and the upper level featured a four-sided large square pyramid structure, covered in small 1” glazed grey ceramic tiles which I was informed cost a Penny each (old money). The Pyramid was probably about 18’ high and about the same square, tapering in about 6” or so at the base, forming a sort of concrete skirt, presumably so that moss didn’t creep up it from ground level. It was too steep and too slippery to be climbable, although in hindsight, I’m surprised it didn’t sport a bike tyre at the apex, that being a common sport with lamp posts.

One side of the pyramid (the east) had a slot that was just deep enough to crawl through at base level, although not for long, as a steel blocking bar was fitted to keep errant kids out. This was the water outflow to feed the cascade, the water running down a flat bottomed channel with gently sloping sides (also tiled with 1” mosaics, although a vivid blue) and then spilling over a lip to form a waterfall. However, when we first moved there, the water feature was far from complete. There was a steel trapdoor on the north side of the pyramid, which opened onto what looked like the access into a sewer, having metal climbing rungs projecting from the wall. If you went down, a short tunnel led into the pyramid itself, which housed the pumping chamber. A 6’ square (and deep) sump hole linked up to the water return from the lower channel which ran from the waterfall to the external wall of the Primary School on the South of the Square. Two large industrial pumps lifted the water up to the cascade level, rising over an internal wall and to outflow pipes inside the upper pyramid. Looking upwards, the internal pyramid shape was reflected in the concrete, with the shuttering board marks clearly visible.

The first time I went down it was lit only by a 100 watt hanging lamp and it was a very spooky place, with mysterious machinery, wonky switchgear and wires hanging out of the trunking. The bottom of the tunnel was also full of water, alleviated by putting wooden pallets down to walk on, although they were still squelchy.

Initially it didn’t have a trapdoor, just a large plywood board covering the hole. When the trapdoor was fitted, we worked out that it could be unlocked by a square shaft key, house internal door handles being admirable for the purpose! Eventually it was fitted with a padlock and subsequent explorations were curtailed. When I managed to get down again after it was all completed (courtesy a friendly Electrician) it was well lit with fluorescent fittings on all four walls, very tidy and somewhat spartan other than the pumps in the middle of the room. I had always thought of it as having blue pumps and pipes, however under decent lighting they were actually green in colour when seen other than torchlight.

I had befriended the Clerk of Works previously and managed to look at most of the plans, even sitting in with informal meetings involving the architect. When they got round to commissioning the water feature, they were rather disappointed to find that they only got the “sheet of glass” waterfall effect with both pumps running and the system overfilled with water, along with no wind, of course. The edge of the Waterfall had a metal plate creating a lip so that the water would cascade cleanly over and of course any rubbish in the upper waterway would spoil the clean lines of the cascade.

Another problem they encountered was rain run-off through the metal hatchway filling the bottom of the trough inside the Pyramid, as I had seen in early construction. This was resolved by drilling a hole from the trough through to the sump so that it would simply drain into the system. However, being reinforced concrete, it was a diamond tipped drill and half a day to do it.

The upper waterway was open to the path on one side (there was a sloping ramp on the other) and the builders were worried about Kids riding bikes through the upper waterway and possibly falling off. They decided to resolve this by putting up some sort of barrier and they created a number of large identical concrete boulders based on the shape of a large rock that had a pleasing form and was excavated during the building process. They were laid out in a curve rathe rthan just a straight line and I recall that fitting them and keeping them in place was a challenge, as the local ragamuffins enjoyed working out how to get them off their (hidden) mountings and lob them over the waterfall.

I imagine that the water feature would have been abandoned after a couple of years, as the square never quite became the Mediterranean plaza that the planners may have intended. Indeed the policy of “selected tenants” on the estate went by the wayside, one of our neighbours being known as “Mrs. T” by my Dad, although he wouldn’t tell me what it stood for until I was much older!

I was surprised to find no trace of the Pyramid when I returned there in the 1990s. It had been completely demolished and the two levels of the plaza merged into a slope to follow the line of the original ramp, which was still in-situ. The ramp had special tiles (which were less than 12” square so there were lots of them) and they were originally electrically heated from underneath when the temperature got near freezing. The bleak tarmac had been replaced with curved paths and lots of bushes so the area certainly looked more attractive, although the effect was counteracted somewhat by the school which had fencing that would suit a remand centre. (Originally, the school had a wooden fence in the bottom of a “Ha-ha”, a trench designed to reduce the visual impact of the fencing).

I have also only found one reference to the pyramid on the World Wide Web, which is surprising considering how unusual it was. So, now there are two. I have a photo somewhere, just to prove that I didn’t imagine it. Maybe one day I’ll track it down & post it up.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Polling day

I've not had any election correspondence from the Lib Dem, Tory, Independent or BNP. Only leaflets were 1 labour, 2 Morley Borough Independent.

Round the town, a few Elliott (MBI) went up on telegraph poles at the weekend and I saw a couple of BNP ones as well this morning on Britannia Road, Morley's bypass.

"People like you are voting BNP".

Yea, right, Chinny reck-on, etc...

Scales of justice

When out shopping at ASDA, David (aged 8.5) asked if he could have some Pick ‘n Mix rather than the normal three bags for a pound stuff we get him (cheeky monkeys, fried eggs, squishy strawberries etc.) We did point out that you got a lot less but he was willing to invest a pound of his pocket money so we helped him choose and weigh. There is a simple scale next to the area for estimating weight and it is charged at 52p per 100g so I told him that if he went up to 200g on the scale it would be about a pound (indeed slightly less as the pointer was a little over the zero mark).

Sweets subsequently chosen and weighed, we checked out and headed home. I had been a little surprised that the sweets had cost us £1.66 but we were pushed for timeand let it go (David goes to something called Kid’s club on Saturday mornings which is a sort of Sunday School and we fit shopping in after his swim and before the bible bashing). However, we persuaded David to hold off on eating the sweets (which wasn’t easy) and weighed them at home- 168g on our digital kitchen scales, not the 320g the receipt claimed. So, the Pic ‘n Mix scales had been roughly right and the checkout ones had over-weighed nearly double.

Karen’s reaction was to put it down to experience (after all, it was only 75p or so and it would cost us that in driving back to ASDA) but I was keen to be fair to David, as our careful explanation of how it all worked to him was somewhat negated by the reality. So, after dropping David off at his regular Kid’s Club event, back I dutifully trotted, to the “Happy to Help” desk.

They re-weighed them on another till and they came up 173g, well within the margin of error for my cheap kitchen scales. They were most apologetic, gave me the £1.66 back (in cash) and got someone to do a calibration check on the offending checkout. They did say it was more likely that something else had been on the weighing platform at the time rather than be wrong as they were regularly checked. However, we had used “Personal Shopper” so there were only two exception items, some battered Jaffa Cakes from the reduced shelf and the bag of sweeties (everything else was bagged up in the trolley). Maybe it was an elbow or a pen…

So, it pays to complain. David got to keep his pound, perhaps ASDA avoided a weights and measures incident (in the unlikely event that the scales were out of calibration and they were mystery shoppered that day). I got out of some housework (well, postponed it, anyway!) and even ended up with a couple of sweets from David. I also got the satisfaction of knowing I was right, something not the default state for a bloke in marriage!

Monday, May 01, 2006

A night at the Rock Opera...

Morley has a second hand music shop in the Bottoms area, the shop is called "Sounds 'n Stuff" and the owner, Stewart Pollard, also teaches guitar to youngsters.

He has now come up with the bright idea of forming the Morley music Trust and held an inaugural concert last Friday.

The event kicked off with a session from fresh faced local Band Tytania. It wasn't to my taste, sounding rather Iron maiden/Black Sabbath, but what would I know, I'm on the home stretch to 50 so hardly qualify as "the youth of today". I found their music loud, rather turgid and also rather dull to watch but as far as I knew it was their own compositions and they played/sang competently. Certainly their camp followers cheered them on.

The second performer was Ricky Harding, a small, white haired rather friendly looking chap with faun coloured shoes & slacks that didn't make him look Rock & Roll at all. He reminded me of an elderly uncle with witty banter and there was no immediate clue that he was an Axe God- until he started playing. Ricky could play in a wide range of styles and held the audience with his dexterity. It had been billed as a guitar demonstration and it was exactly that, he explained the style and purpose of all that he played. His opening song had hit a few discordant twangs and he later apologised for this, having inadvertently cut his fingernails rather too close to the show.

The final set was from a band called GreenMac who played a mixture of blues style numbers and early Fleetwood Mac songs, being a sort of tribute band to Peter Green, the pre-massive success days of Fleetwood Mac before the Girls joined and they went big time. The main man in Green Mac is Dusty Miller, who runs a guitar shop in Leeds. These guys looked like rockers and played a tight set, although the addition of a vintage Hammond might have nicely rounded the sound to my ears. Dusty sounds a bit like Clapton when singing and my favourite song from their set had to be Man of the World, the least favourite being Albatross that I find just as lethargic today as when I first heard it in 1969. (I much preferred Lily the Pink and Obladi-Oblada also in the charts at the time).

UPDATE- Corrected as per comments, cheers.